James Foley, ISIS and Why the Righteous Suffer

Iraqi Christian
An Iraqi Christian man from Mosul, who fled from violence in their country, reads a book at the Latin Patriarchate Church in Amman Thursday. (Reuters/Muhammad Hamed)

Why did God allow James Foley, who in the past has spoken of the power of faith and prayer, to suffer beheading at the hands of ISIS terrorists? Why is Saeed Abedini, an American pastor, languishing under brutal conditions in an Iranian prison while his wife and two small children in Idaho pray for his return? Why are Christians in the Middle East, including children, being crucified, beheaded and expelled from their homes and communities with nothing but the clothes on their backs? Why?

The rise of the persecution of Christians around the world is raising again the question of why the righteous suffer. Although you may not have experienced such brutal physical treatment, you have experienced suffering. Perhaps it was the untimely death of a loved one, a painful broken relationship, the loss of employment, or a son or daughter who broke your heart. The fact is that suffering is a part of the human experience, and Christians are not exempt.

The question that so many have asked through the ages is, "Why do the righteous suffer?" I am not so presumptuous as to think I have all the answers, but here are some answers that I have found helpful in my journey of faith.

Because We Live in a Fallen World

This is not heaven. We live in a fallen world where evil exists. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, declared their independence from God and chose to go it on their own, they opened the door for the entry of evil into this world. Human nature itself was corrupted and death, which was not a part of the original creation, became a part of this fallen world.

The trend of this fallen world is against God and His Word. This is why John the Apostle wrote to one of the earliest Christian communities and warned, "Do not be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13, NLT). Where Christian influence wanes in this fallen world, greater will be the hatred toward followers of Jesus. This is why we must see another great spiritual awakening in our land.

The biblical account of a good creation, and then a fall, provides the only philosophical and theological answer for what we see in the world today. It gives the only answer for the existence of evil we see in the world. It provides the only answer for the human condition wherein people can show flashes of noble and good deeds and also horrific and evil actions.

Because There Is a Devil and Demons Who Hate Christians

The actions of our first parents, in turning from God, opened the door to an evil personality the Bible calls Satan and the devil. This evil being hates God and His children. Although defeated by the cross of Christ, Satan and his demons were not annihilated. They are still active in this world, and Christians are particular objects of their vileness and hatred.

Jesus warned His followers of the reality of serving Him in a fallen world where Satan is still a reality to be dealt with. In John 15:19, He said to His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." He went on to say, "The time is coming when whoever kills you will think he offers God service" (John 16:2).

It is Satan and demons who influence people like the ISIS terrorists who are so brutal toward Christians. Satan and demons also attack us in our thought life seeking to lead us astray and get us to make wrong choices that will hurt us and do injury to others. Peter tells us how we should respond to this reality. He says, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist steadfast in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8).

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